The average person checks their work email approximately 15 times per day, according to a report by Harvard Business Review. Despite multiple studies on the link between stress and checking email, the jury is still out on how often one should check their email.
I check mine consistently throughout the day — including after work hours. When I see an email that needs a response in my inbox, I either feel compelled to answer it right away, or I know it’s there and have the pressure of a reply weighing on me until I take the time to answer it.
Different jobs have different requirements when it comes to answering emails, but in my personal experience as a writer, checking my work email has always been less of a need after hours.
I quit checking my email between the hours of 5 pm and 8 am for one week to see if I could lower my stress level, re-prioritize my time, and conquer my fears of missing important messages.
Here’s a look at what I learned by not checking my email outside of work hours:
I realized what I’m actually doing when I “check my email”
The first night, I found my thumb instinctively hovering over the email icon on my phone after replying to a text from my husband. The amount of willpower it took me to stop that natural action was more than I expected. I had to actively think about not checking my email.
I kept busy to distract myself. My kitchen got cleaned, my kid’s nails got trimmed, and I finished a book that I enjoyed. Certainly, my productivity was already increasing just to keep me from thinking about needing to check my email. Sure, it wasn’t all work-related productivity, but productive nonetheless.
This fact alone made me consider what I’m actually doing when I check my email. I check my email like I check social media. It is in and of itself, a distraction from my home life.
The fear of missing out
Although one of my main fears in not checking my email after hours was that I would miss something urgent that needed my immediate attention, this did not happen once throughout the week.
I accidentally peeked at my inbox one evening when I opened up my laptop and the browser was still open from earlier in the day. I felt a huge sense of relief when I realized that in the few hours since I had last checked my email, I had only received a few non-important messages and nothing that even required a response.
I had a fear of missing out on an email after hours, but the likelihood of that actually happening isn’t all that great. If anything truly urgent needed my attention, I could still be reached by phone.
I did not neglect work and I was not less productive
Although I had always thought that it would, not checking my email after hours did not mean I neglected work that needed to be done. I could still write and create in my own time without sending or receiving emails.
If I thought of an idea or worked on a project after hours that needed to be sent to someone when completed, I still did the work. Then, I left it alone until the next morning when it was officially time to be back on the email clock.
Continuing the habit
Toward the end of the week, I started looking forward to 5 p.m. more than usual. I realized that I enjoyed the freedom from checking my emails and actively gave less thought to what might be sitting in my inbox the longer I experimented with this habit.
I made the decision on Sunday morning to not check my email at all that day. Although I don’t want to get in the habit of ducking my inbox altogether, having one day on the weekend to leave work for a workday felt amazing and allowed me to enjoy my family without being tethered to work.
While it may not be an option for all professionals, setting limits around checking emails proved to me to be a worthwhile venture.